University President Michael Drake and Senate President Keith Faber attend a forum on August 13 in Urbana, Ohio. Photo Credit: Michael Huson / Campus Editor

University President Michael Drake and Senate President Keith Faber attend a forum on August 13 in Urbana, Ohio. Photo Credit: Michael Huson / Campus Editor

As Ohio State students took their leave of campus last summer, some might have envisioned relaxing by a swimming pool, starting a new internship, or simply a nice, blank assignment calendar.

University President Michael Drake, however, departed from the capital city with his own vision: one to increase access, affordability and excellence at OSU.

Drake’s summer tour of affordability summits took him out of Columbus and into southern and western Ohio to speak with local community and business leaders about college affordability aspects of OSU’s “2020 Vision.”

The president’s first trip on the affordability tour was to the south, where he spoke at the Wilmington Municipal Building on July 23. The second stop was in Urbana on Aug. 13, where he spoke on a panel with Ohio Senate President Keith Faber and Clark State Community College President Jo Alice Blondin.

Drake began his portion of the Urbana discussion by stating his views on the importance of an affordable college education.

“We all agree that college education is a great expense for many, many families,” Drake said. “Very few families have that much of disposable income in one year. That’s a tiny fraction of the population, so we are very concerned with doing everything we can to make college accessible and affordable. We think college education is more important than it’s ever been. We want a greater percentage of our citizens to be able to have a college education.”

The Board of Trustees approved OSU’s third consecutive tuition freeze during a meeting on June 5. The approval held this academic year’s tuition at $10,037 for in-state students, who make up about 79 percent of OSU undergraduates.

However, out-of-state tuition was approved to increase 3.1 percent at that meeting, raising tuition to $27,362 for the 2015-16 academic year.

Drake identified two university goals: increasing the university’s fiscal efficiency and effectiveness and continuing to invest in faculty, facilities and research.

He added financial support from the state of Ohio increases resources and, in turn, aids the university with balancing those two goals, not forcing one to compromise the other.

Drake cited the increase of the Ohio College Opportunity Grant as an example of financial aid increasing college affordability for lower- and middle-income families.

He said that the university is doing its part, too, in the effort to increase overall affordability.

Drake said OSU has challenged itself to cut $200 million of general expenditures university wide over the next five years while simultaneously increasing revenue by $200 million.

In an effort to reach that $400 million total by 2020, Drake said $15 million was taken from university savings and devoted to need-based aid in the form of affordability grants for students.

“We granted the $15 million to the students before we had realized the savings that were going to pay for that,” he said. “It was a bit like being a cliff diver. But we thought we could find it, so we ran and jumped. Our job is to be able to find the money to cover that, and we’ve made great progress since the spring.”

Qualifying low-income students were awarded $1,500 affordability grants, and $1,000 affordability grants are awarded to qualifying middle-income students. The grants reach about 12,400 students.

The $15 million Affordability Grant program was announced by Drake during the June 5 Board of Trustees meeting.

Blondin noted several Clark State initiatives and plans to increase affordability, including partial tuition discount opportunities and transfer agreements with four-year institutions, including agreements with OSU, an “aspiration school” for her students. She also praised the Clark State Board of Trustees for freezing tuition at about $4,070 in early spring.

“The definition of affordability can be a challenge when you’re talking to students because they don’t necessarily perceive that as affordable,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re working with them and that they understand that higher education is an investment, and we see that investment in how they transfer to four-year institutions … or that they go into the workforce, so that investment in their tuition pays off.”

Drake told The Lantern that an important aspect of the forum is that the guests have shared goals.

“We’re really all in the same business — each playing a little bit of a different position on the team, but all having the same objective at the end of the day,” Drake said of providing Ohioans with an opportunity to receive higher education.

Drake said he felt meetings like the one held in Urbana serve as good opportunities to discuss with university leaders the current state of Ohio colleges and possibilities for future.

“I think it’s important that we reiterate publicly our commitment to making higher education affordable, both from the university perspective and from the state legislative perspective,” he said. “And that’s what events like today do.”